Living the vintage years
I confess I cannot clean my house without John Denver.
His two-cassette tape set (remember cassettes?), featuring his hit songs, accompanies me upstairs and down, week after week.
I sing along as I dust and scrub, wondering if Denver had a premonition about his premature death. Several of the songs seem to indicate he did.
A favorite tune of mine, "On the Wings of a Dream," has lyrics that remind me of a recent conversation my husband and I had with friends.
In the song, Denver asks, "Why is it thus we are here and so soon we are gone?"
Our friends, a couple who had gone to a Reading cemetery to visit his relatives' graves, remarked that in a 100 years no one will even remember we existed.
"Suddenly we're gone, then we're forgotten," the husband remarked.
Maybe. Maybe not.
To some extent, whether we are remembered after we're gone may depend on whether we're memorable in this life.
Speaking for myself, so many departed loved ones influenced my life in some way, I feel they, in a sense, are continuing to live in me.
Most of us, as we look back over our lives, can name a few key people who helped to shape us into the persons we have become as adults.
Maybe their influence helped to develop our values or our love of history or cooking or activism or books.
Several friends mention a special teacher who decades ago left a permanent mark on them and influenced the trajectory of their lives and careers.
Teachers spend many hours with their students, and perceptive teachers can see the potential in youngsters and offer encouragement and guidance.
One woman, now in her 70s, says she became an Allentown public school teacher because of the positive, caring influence of one of her elementary school teachers, my late Great-Aunt Alice, who took under her wing a shy little girl who could not speak English.
My aunt's compassion and patience many years ago allowed that child to blossom and led to her decision to also become a teacher and help other immigrant children find their way.
Probably this teacher, too, will be remembered fondly by some of her students for the positive impact she had in shaping their lives.
I clearly remember some of my special teachers and college professors, all long gone now, but surely not forgotten.
My favorite journalism prof influenced the way I approach every article I write to this day.
She once gave me an F on a paper (an A student, I thought she had handed me someone else's work by mistake) because I spelled a person's last name wrong in the news story I had submitted.
The name was Schaeffer, which, unfortunately, has about 1,000 possible spellings!
"You have to check. Verify everything. The worst mistake in journalism is spelling someone's name wrong," she admonished.
Even now, if someone I'm writing about is named John Smith, I ask him to spell both his first and last name. I get funny looks, but I get it right.
As we reflect on the ways people in our past helped to shape us, we have to turn the spotlight on ourselves, too, and the ways in which we influence the lives of others, whether we try to or not.
Will we be remembered for our advocacy, activism, kindness, volunteerism, spirit, compassion? What is our contribution? What permanent mark will we leave on this earth?
Just as special people continue to live in us, even though they no longer live with us, we, also, can leave that legacy.
Yes, someday we will be gone. But we'll live on, in the lives of folks we leave behind.
As John Denver so aptly puts it, "Though the singer is silent, there still is the truth of the song."